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The Growing Hizbullah Threat to Israel

Last week, the ICEJ’s annual Envision pastors conference ventured to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon to learn more about the threat of Iran and Hizbullah to Israel and the urgent need for more community bomb shelters in the northern border region. Streaming live from kibbutz Mizgav Am, we began the broadcast with ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman David Parsons interviewing IDF Major (Res.) Elliot Chodoff, one of Israel’s leading military analysts, about the growing threat posed by Hizbullah and Iran to Israel. Here are portions of their discussion.

David Parsons: We're really in this stunning location where over here you can see majestic Mount Hermon with its white snowcap. This is the very finger or northern tip of Israel, the Hula Valley, very lovely, and the hills of Lebanon behind us. But we have to stand here in this incredible place and talk about a serious subject, which is the threat to northern Israel emanating from Lebanon and Syria. And we really have one of Israel's best experts on military/security threats, Major (Res) Elliot Chodoff. It's good to have you with us. You're in the reserves, which means you can speak a little more freely.

Maj. Eliott Chodoff: Yes, everything short of classified.

Parsons: You served for 35 years in the Israeli military and actually wrote some of the training and operational manuals for the combat and other units in the IDF. And now you’re in the IDF reserves, with the HomeFront Command for the northern front… a very important role. We’ll get a little more on your background as we go, but it’s good to have with us. Now, a year or so ago, the Israeli government did a study on the threat on the northern border. There's been so much focus on Hamas in Gaza and all the rockets in four or five rocket wars in southern Israel in the last 15 years or so. But it's been relatively quiet up here since 2006, the Second Lebanon War. Yet this study said the northern front is likely to heat up and there's a huge lack of secure civilian defense shelters. What's the situation up here?

Maj. Chodoff: The situation is that Israel has not been able to keep up with the changing threat. When the state was established, bomb shelters were standard in construction. But those were community bomb shelters for groups of people, numbers of families, because the perceived threat was the possibility of an enemy air attack coming in and striking anywhere in Israel. But it would be a passing threat. In other words, air raid sirens, go into the shelters for half an hour, 45 minutes, and then come out, it would be over. And in fact, it was a very, very rare occurrence, even during the wars, that such a thing actually happened. With the shift toward the Hizbullah rocket threat today, being far more than anything we've ever faced before, certainly even more than Hamas, we're suddenly facing a reality which we saw in 2006, when Israeli families particularly in the North, and now it'll be much greater throughout the country, but the North will certainly get hit more. We will have to stay in a sheltered situation, possibly for weeks – like what happened in 2006. And our civilian defense system physically hasn't caught up with that reality… Here, we're talking about rocket alerts of 15 seconds, 30 seconds, which completely changes the time frame to reach safety. The best solution for that is either a shelter or what we call a safe room, a hardened room inside each home or as part of an apartment. But most older homes or buildings were not built to that standard. That's a huge endeavor in terms of construction. It's also very expensive. So, many residences in the North, including my home, don't have these safe rooms and that's the gap, that's the reality we face.

Parsons: After the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein fired Scuds at Israel, Israel adopted a new policy that with any new residential construction, you had to build a shelter in your home. This was a way of passing on the costs of passive missile defense to the public, correct?

Maj. Chodoff: Yes! And even then, there was a great debate, and I was involved in some of that. The fear with Saddam's missiles was the possibility of him using chemical weapons, poison gas. Civil defense against conventional explosives is very different from defense against chemical weapons. And the decision was the chemical threat was a much greater threat than the conventional one. Which is why most people had sealed rooms and gas masks. We were not in actual shelters per se, because they were defending against chemical attacks. Today, of course, the standard is that any major shelter also has filters to filter out chemical agents.

Parsons: We know that in Gaza, Hamas has learned to make their own rockets. They now have rockets that can reach Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and they may have 20,000 or 30,000 rockets. But the threat from Hizbullah in the North, it's been allowed to build up to much, much more. Can you fill us in on that?

Maj. Chodoff: Yes, just let me start with a sense of scale. In 2006, my estimates were that Hizbullah started out with about 20,000 rockets. The Israeli Air Force did an excellent job taking out a good number of them. And in the end, some 4,000 rockets fell on Israel over the five-week war. So, I'm going to say that number again, 4,000 rockets in northern Israel over five weeks. Today, my estimate is that Hizbullah has somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 rockets. In other words, way over ten times what they had.

Parsons: I think the UN says at least 150,000 rockets, right?

Maj. Chodoff: Right! Here, I think it's important to point out official estimates will always be low… Their plan is to fire some 2,000 rockets a day at Israel to saturate the area… We're talking about in two days absorbing what we faced in five weeks in 2006. But what it also means at that rate, is that the Iron Dome, which is semi-miraculous technology…it's not going to work up here, because it'll be flooded. Now, it will take out some, but not like the situation in Gaza, where Hamas puts up, say, ten or a dozen rockets in the air at a time, the Iron Dome system can sift and figure which are and which aren't threatening to civilian areas and take them out. If Hizballah was firing multiple volleys of hundreds of rockets at a time, the Iron Dome system will just be swamped. So, the civil defense issue now becomes that much more critical. In addition to that, in 2006, Hizbullah’s maximum range of serious munitions, in terms of numbers, was more or less the line of Hadera, which is just south of Haifa. Today, Hizbullah has rockets that can reach every city in Israel, except for Eilat. In other words, they can cover the entire country, including Tel Aviv and Beersheba.

Parsons: And they can sit in Beirut and fire their rockets from there.

Maj. Chodoff: That's right! With that longer range, they can go further north to fire them and even reach further south than they did in 2006.

Parsons: Which means 95% of Israel's population is now under threat from Hizbullah. And it's not just throwing up rockets to see where they land. A lot of these rockets are now guided?

Maj. Chodoff: Part of what we've been dealing with over the past couple of years in Syria is preventing the delivery of guidance systems from Iran to Hizbullah. Now, I think it's important for people to understand that very often they are referred to as a proxy of Iran, but that's not accurate. Hizbullah is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the “Quds Force.” In other words, they're part of the command hierarchy. They're not operating independently. And that is a completely changed situation. Hamas is a proxy. And the Iranians are trying to get more sophisticated guidance systems to Hizbullah today. Let's also be clear, the electronics for these guidance systems is elementary by our modern standards… Nonetheless, everything they can possibly do to make their system more accurate means that many more of their rockets will go into populated areas, as opposed to missing them. They don't have the accuracy to aim at one specific building, say, but they do have the accuracy to fire dozens at a time and to put all of those dozens of rockets into Haifa.

Parsons: Where there are chemical plants, oil storage facilities…

Maj. Chodoff: Correct! But certainly, to put millions of Israelis under perpetual threat for possibly weeks on end.

Parsons: Now, Hizbullah has been preoccupied in recent years with the civil war in Syria, helping to keep the Assad regime in place, which is friendly to them and to Iran. And they've lost a lot of troops trying to prop up the Assad regime. A lot of these villages that we see in the background, they've had to hold funerals for their sons who were fighting in another country. But they also gained combat experience there. Overall, what is your assessment of the strength of Hizbullah coming out of the Syrian civil war?

Maj. Chodoff: Certainly, they came out stronger. They gained an enormous amount of combat experience, operational experience, command-and-control experience. They've gone from what I would have called in 2006 a guerrilla force, obviously a terrorist organization, whereas today they're an army. They're not a fully equipped army, they don't have tank forces, but they are an army. They are organized in military formation of companies, battalions, brigades, etc. They have the training, both from Iran and locally. They've set up training bases at a much greater scale than what they had in the past in Lebanon, with Iranian instructors as well. And from the point of view of personal combat skill up through organizational command and skill, they've come out way ahead.

Parsons: So, this is a serious force. We saw that basically they already fought Israel to a standoff in 2006, wouldn’t you say?

Maj. Chodoff: Yes. But I would say that in 2006, tactically, we overwhelmed them. Strategically, we didn't do so well. The high-command decision making was, I'll be generous and say… it wasn't exactly a successful operation. But on the ground, tactically, we defeated them. Handily, I would say from a battlefield point of view. Not that they weren't good, but we were overwhelmingly better. Still, they have improved considerably since then.

Parsons: Even though there was a UN Security Council resolution that said no one can rearm them?

Maj. Chodoff: UN Security Council resolutions, in this case, are not worth the paper they're printed on.

Parsons: Do they have factories to make rockets within Lebanon now?

Maj. Chodoff: They do have factories, but they're getting most of their stuff directly from Iran. We have to pick and choose what we're going after. We can't stop all of it. So, they're gaining power. But I would say of less concern, to me, is the quantity of rockets at this point. In other words, as I said earlier, 250,000 rockets – a few more, a few less – is not really the issue. Their actual combat skill, their ability to use battlefield tactics and weapons has gone up significantly. And that means that when we have to go in after them – because it's a matter of when and not if – we're going to be fighting possibly the most competent ground force we've ever fought in our history in the whole region.

Parsons: I understand this strategy of using rockets against the civilian heartland of Israel, which didn't really face this until around 2000, that it came from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. This is when Iraq spent eight years firing Scud missiles at Iran. In Tehran, you lived in fear of these Scud missiles for years. And Iran learned firsthand what a terror weapon this can be. And they've now turned that strategy on Israel, by ringing Israel with all these rockets.

Maj. Chodoff: It goes back earlier than that. The PLO in the 1970s was firing rockets out of Lebanon into Israel. These were all the Katyusha variants, a rocket type originally built by Russia in World War Two… And they are a very effective military weapon in large quantities… in the sense that you can sit over there and fire it, and nobody can touch you unless they come in after you. The other tremendous advantage of rockets is that the rocket itself is the weapon, as opposed to artillery… Every time you fire one of these, you fired the weapon along with the munition, there's nothing left to hit. You can take out the launcher, but they are ridiculously cheap and simple to make. And the rockets are cheap to make as well.

Parsons: So, Iran has been investing in Hizbullah for years with billions of dollars and recruiting and training this extension of their military forces, given them hundreds of thousands of rockets and missiles. That is a lot of waste. And they're currently bleeding Lebanon dry. Lebanon is in complete economic collapse… Why is Iran so interested in destroying Israel?

Maj. Chodoff: You have to go back to Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, who by the way also established Hizbullah. Khomeini stated from the outset of the 1979 Revolution that the eradication of Israel is a primary objective of Iran. It was an extermination, if just you read his works. And they read like the Nazis... And he imposed that as the ideology of Iran, and by extension Hezbollah is absolutely religiously loyal to Khomeini and his legacy… So the destruction of Israel is not a tactic, it's at the core of their existence.

Parsons: These Hizbullah rockets have also built up a deterrence, to keep Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear program. Israel has to calculate that by striking Iran's nuclear programs, they know they're going to be facing a major rocket war, correct?

Maj. Chodoff: There's certainly an element of deterrence in that, but it's a deterrence that's going to wear thin. In other words, the Iranian nuclear program is an existential threat to Israel, as the Iranians have said correctly, “Israel is a one bomb country.” They could detonate a nuclear weapon over Tel Aviv and that’s a very real, existential threat which Israel needs to be able to deal with… One of the reasons that we haven't dealt with it yet… that we're stringing it out as much as possible, is the retaliatory threat coming from here in Lebanon. But there's going to be a point where those curves cross and we're just going to have to deal with the consequences.

JOIN US for a follow-up interview with Maj. Elliot Chodoff this coming Thursday, 10 February, at 4:00 PM (Israel time) on the ICEJ Weekly Webinar, also part of Envision 2022. We will be continuing our discussion with Maj. Chodoff about what measures Israel is taking to defend itself against the growing threat from Iran and its regional proxy militias.

IN ADDITION, please consider a gift to the ICEJ’s “Israel in Crisis” fund to help provide portable bomb shelters to vulnerable Israeli communities living under the constant threat of rocket attack from Lebanon and Gaza. The Christian Embassy has delivered 48 of these live-saving bomb shelters in the past year alone.
 

A Day to ‘Never Forget!’

Last week on Thursday, 27 January, the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual memorial day set by the United Nations in 2005 to remember the Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people and other targeted groups during World War II.

Held on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp on 27 January 1945, it is a day to reflect, as well as to educate the global community, in hopes that the horrors which took place then will never again happen!

To commemorate this day, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem held a special wreath-laying ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, and also hosted an informative online discussion with experts on fighting antisemitism.

Meanwhile, at the ICEJ’s Home for Holocaust Survivors in Haifa, a small indoor ceremony was held on 27 January in the presence of Knesset Members and local dignitaries. Judith Hershkovitz, a 93 year-old Holocaust survivor and current Haifa Home resident, shared her story with MK Inbar Bezek of the Yesh Atid party. A hologram of Judith’s story is screened in a room at the museum which was opened as part of our survivors’ Home. Looking at one of her family photos on the wall, Judith pointed to herself in the photo and sadly explained that the rest of her entire family perished during the war.

In addition, Israel commemorated the day by projecting the stories of Holocaust survivors onto landmark buildings across the Land. With the number of Holocaust survivors decreasing each year, a social non-profit venture called “Live Forever” has been launched in cooperation with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and other charitable partners to preserve the Holocaust survivors’ memories, as they share their stories so that future generations will remember.

A video of Judith’s personal story was beamed on the massive walls of the Old City in Jerusalem, and other buildings in Tel Aviv, Beersheva, Herzliya and Haifa. She also was interviewed by the media, and her story appeared on several Israeli news channels.

Judith comes from a family of seven who lived together in Tisodada, Hungary. Her grandmother lived with them as well. Her father was a merchant who owned a store, and her mother was a housewife and helped in the store.

At the young age of 11, Judith’s childhood was snatched away from her when the Germans invaded Hungary in 1944.

“Until 1944, we were in our home and somehow our life was tolerable” recalled Judith. “Then our tragedy started. All the Jews were forced to gather in the synagogue. We were allowed to take one suitcase with us. We were put in a ghetto. We lost our home, our store, everything. When the Germans came into our home, we were forced to give them our jewelry and everything we had.”

“After about two weeks we were taken to the train station: destination Auschwitz. The trip to Auschwitz was terrible. I cannot bring myself to describe it. After three days we arrived at Auschwitz. We were separated into two groups, men and women. My sister was 12 years old, and she was taken away with my grandmother and I never saw either of them alive again”, recounted Judith.

“I was taken to Germany to work in a factory. It was also a terrible trip. No food, no air, no water”, continued Judith.

Judith worked hard during this time, from six in the morning to six at night, and she remained constantly hungry as there was no food to eat. She also had nothing warm to wear to protect her from the bitterly cold winters. During her time in Germany, she heard the news that her whole family had perished.

“I was the only person who remained alive from my family. I have a number on my hand”, said Judith.

When the war ended, Judith had to take a very hard three-week journey on foot, after which the Russians released her and she was taken to a German hospital. There she remained for approximately one year.

“There was a very nice nurse there, she was German. Thanks to her, I managed to heal. She treated me like her own daughter”, Judith remembered.

In December 1946, Judith immigrated to Israel and blended into Israeli life. She was eventually drafted into the army. She met her husband, married, and had two children. Both her husband and her daughter have since passed away, while her son now lives in another country.

So, being alone in Israel, Judith greatly appreciates the love and support she receives at the Haifa Home. She has been a resident since May 2013.

Holocaust survivor Shalom Stamberg’s story was also beamed onto the walls of Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. Shalom and his wife, Zelda, had been visiting the Haifa Home almost daily and although they were not yet residents, they were treated and cared for like residents. Shalom and Zelda planned on moving into the Haifa Home, but sadly Shalom passed away just before the move was possible. Zelda moved into the Home 30 days after his death.

Shalom was one of the last remaining survivors of the Warsaw ghetto and had also survived five concentration camps.

According to a Labor and Social Affairs Ministry report released in January, most of the Holocaust survivors left in the world now live in Israel, numbering some 165,800.

Over 90% of these Holocaust survivors are 80 years and older, and the average age is 85 years old. There are 950 survivors who are more than 100 years old.

Among other findings, 60% of the survivors are women.

Approximately 64% were born in Europe, while 36% are from North African states such as Morocco and Algeria. Smaller numbers are from Iraq, Tunisia, and Libya, where local Jews suffered under Nazi-inspired racial laws.

A full 25% currently live in poverty and 30% are living alone.

Most of the Holocaust Survivors in Israel have lived here since the late 1940s and early 1950s. One third arrived in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union.

The ICEJ’s Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors is a loving environment where residents can live out the remainder of their years with dignity and ease, knowing all their needs are being cared for by loving staff, including our dedicated team of Christian volunteers.

Please continue to support the ICEJ’s Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors.  

Photo credit: ICEJ and Udi Alfasi 

A Listening Ear Helps Israelis Find Work and Direction

When life gives you a few knocks and hopelessness overwhelms you, sometimes all it takes is a listening ear and a word of encouragement to restore your hope again.

Through our “Giving a Future and a Hope” aid program, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem seeks to be there for Israelis who have suffered a few of life’s knocks, ensuring they have a place to turn. One way the ICEJ has offered hope is through our support for an employment call center which reaches out to those in desperate need of advice and direction.

As Israel endured several long lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic over recent years, many small businesses were unable to sustain their staff, and thousands of Israelis suddenly found themselves either let go from their work, or on extended furlough with little compensation.

The ensuing family crises meant that the employment call center went from 1,500 calls annually pre-pandemic, to responding to 8,700 calls for help in 2021 alone! An urgent need for expansion in technology, volunteers, as well as volunteer training was needed to meet the sheer volume of desperate callers.

“Knowing that we could offer hope and practical help to a lot of people in crisis, we didn’t hesitate to come alongside the call center to allow them to make the necessary upgrades to their system”, remarked Nicole Yoder, ICEJ’s Vice President for AID and Aliyah.

With help from forty trained volunteers, 45% of the callers received advice and referrals to other organisations offering employment programs, vocational training, aid assistance and information about their rights. Another 25% of the callers needed personalized advice and assistance as they were facing specific employment hardships. An additional 9% received personalized ongoing coaching over the phone for several weeks, aimed at bringing about a meaningful employment change, while 21% of callers could participate in live Zoom sessions for guidance on employment-related topics, like job market trends and job-hunting tools. All these recipients also could ask questions and receive immediate answers and assistance.

Yael Biton* was one of these desperate callers. As she reached out to the call center in April 2021, she explained that she was fired from her work in Human Resources at her company because of the coronavirus pandemic. Living in a small community in northern Israel, she was not able to find new work for over six months before contacting the call center. With very few vacant positions, she desperately needed help in focusing her search for a new job.

Zehava, a new volunteer who had just completed the call center’s training course, became Yael’s listening ear. It did not take long for the two of them to form a bond. Zehava helped Yael to discover her employment dreams, identify her strengths and weaknesses, worked with her to re-write her CV and guided her in preparing for job interviews. During this process, Yael discovered that she would like to switch job sectors and began a focused job search. Not long afterwards, Yael found work as a Volunteer Coordinator at an overnight camp for sick and special needs children.

“Zehava’s help was invaluable and contributed greatly to my success in finding this job”, said Yael. “She helped me through a difficult period, boosted my morale and strengthened me in all aspects of the job-hunting process.”
More wonderful testimonies from Israelis whose lives were changed continue to flood into the call center.

“I wasn’t alone in the job-hunting process”, said one caller. “The mentoring I received from my volunteer coach boosted my morale and helped me feel that I could move forward. My mentor gave me tips and shared his rich professional experience and helped me pinpoint my search.”

“Just the fact that I had someone to talk to, helped a lot”, wrote another caller desperate for someone to talk with. “It helped me get my thoughts straight, focus and motivate myself to action.”
After conducting a survey among those receiving prolonged employment coaching, we can report that:

> 90% percent of the callers reported that through the coaching received, they became more focused in the type of work they wanted to find.
> 89% indicated that the coaching helped them cope better emotionally with the job-hunting process.
> 88% gained relevant knowledge about the job market.
> 81% said they gained job-hunting skills.
> 19% reported finding work after receiving help and guidance from their dedicated volunteer.

Your generous donations allow the ICEJ to continue meeting urgent needs here in the Land of Israel. Thank you for making it possible to help give a future and a hope to many struggling Israelis and their families.
 

 

*Name changed to protect privacy.

ICEJ Closing Education Gap for Recently Arrived Ethiopian Jews

The modern-day return of the Ethiopian Jewish community to Israel has often been a story of daring rescues of endangered members of this ancient community. It also is turning into a true success story as more and more Ethiopians are finding their way in Israel’s modern, hi-tech society. This has required a lot of drive and determination by the Ethiopian immigrants themselves, as well as numerous outside efforts and projects to help them get acclimated to life in Israel. The ICEJ is actively involved in both phases of their return, knowing that the Aliyah flights we sponsor normally take only a few hours, but the absorption phase requires years of investment of our time and resources on their behalf.

In recent decades, Israel has brought over 90,000 Ethiopian Jews home to the Promised Land, while another 60,000 have been born in the Land. The Ethiopian Aliyah has often come in waves, including the historic emergency airlifts known as “Operation Moses”, which rescued over 8,000 Ethiopian Jews from rundown refugee camps in Sudan in 1984, and “Operation Solomon”, which rescued nearly 15,000 in one weekend in May 1991. Last year, the “Operation Rock of Israel” airlift flew another 2,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel amid a peak in the coronavirus pandemic in Ethiopia. And now, due to the smoldering civil war and worsening famine conditions in Ethiopia, Israel is planning another airlift of 3,000 more Ethiopian Jews who are expected to start arriving this spring.

Since the Israeli cabinet decided to renew the Ethiopian Aliyah in 2015, the ICEJ has sponsored flights for 2,590 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants – which is roughly half of the number who have arrived in that time. Currently, we are raising funds to bring several hundred more as part of the upcoming airlift. But just as important as providing flights for these new arrivals is helping see them through the crucial absorption phase, which usually takes much longer than most other immigrant communities. Thus, over the past decade the ICEJ has expanded its efforts to assist Ethiopian newcomers by sponsoring projects that help them integrate better into Israeli society.

The current wave of Ethiopian Aliyah is presenting the ICEJ with some unique opportunities to help them adjust more quickly to Israel. Amira Ahronoviz, CEO of The Jewish Agency For Israel, recently gave a briefing to supporters of the Ethiopian Aliyah in which she described what is changing with the latest groups arriving in Israel that gives her so much hope.

“For Ethiopian Jews, the dream of reaching the Promised Land is fulfilled once they land in Israel. They kiss the ground and burst into tears, and we share that moment with them,” explained Ahronoviz. “But the real work for us only begins once they arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport. They face huge gaps in language and education, and the lack of skills needed to compete for good positions in the Israeli job market. Because of these gaps, the Ethiopians are the only immigrant community who are given two full years for free in absorption facilities.”

But then she noted an interesting change which is making her more optimistic about the current wave of Aliyah, which is very different than the previous waves from Ethiopia.

“Those families who are now being reunited – the 2,000 that we brought last year as well as the 3,000 we are now working to bring very quickly – are ones that have spent quite a significant period of time in an urban environment,” said Ahronoviz. “They left their small farming villages more than a decade ago, and so many of the children and the younger adults have actually grown up in an urban environment.”

“Many of them have attended school or received some sort of formal education and have been exposed more to technology and modern life,” she continued. “This means that they come to Israel with a better base for us to help them acclimate into a Western society. And we are seeing that suddenly, we have more than 100 of them with higher academic degrees within our absorption centers. We have more than 500 of them who have completed 12 years of education, which is phenomenal because it means that it sets them on a whole different accelerated track of absorption in Israel.”

“We see that in some vocational training courses, we assumed not more than 20 would enroll in computer literacy skills, but then found 80 of them standing in line to join the courses,” added Ahronoviz. “That's magic! We were never able to do that in the past.”

So the good news is that many of the recently arrived Ethiopian Jewish immigrants already have some level of computer skills to help them get settled more quickly in Israel. But there are some who cannot afford a decent home computer, or have to share an older computer model with several family members. There are also many who first have to complete their high school education before they can enroll in university studies or vocational training courses. To help them, the ICEJ is currently sponsoring a special program for up to 25 recent Ethiopian immigrants who have 8-to-11 years of education which will allow them to earn a high school degree within nine months. The support we are giving includes providing them with computers to complete the course.

“Once again, the ICEJ is leading the way with an amazing cutting-edge program for Ethiopian immigrants,” said Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for Aid & Aliyah. “These young students need computers and other assistance to close the education gap they face for a successful integration. So, even while we are waiting for the next Aliyah flights we will be sponsoring, we already have the opportunity to help other recently arrived Ethiopian students get a faster start to settling in Israel.”

We invite you to join us in making the return of more Ethiopian Jews a true success story. Help us be ready not only to sponsor their Aliyah flights, but also to be waiting with the educational courses and computers they will need to quicken their adjustment to life in Israel. Support our Aliyah and Integration efforts today.
 

 

Transforming homes and lives!

Is it not a wonderful feeling to know you have made a difference in someone’s life?

Well, through your giving to the ICEJ’s “Giving a Future and a Hope” program, you are not only making a difference in one person’s life, but your generosity is impacting many lives!

The Christian Embassy is devoted to touching the hearts of Israelis in desperate need of help. Because of unemployment, financial hardship or simply not having the strength to go on, some find themselves hesitantly knocking on the door of the local social welfare office for help.

One project that the ICEJ is committed to supporting helps with home repairs for Israeli families living in poverty. When Yaacov, a 91-year-old Auschwitz survivor, reached out to an Israeli social welfare worker, his living conditions were in such an inhumane state that immediate action was necessary.

A renovation team of professional workers were not prepared for what they saw when walking into Yaacov’s home. The walls had dirt centimeters thick, there was no shower, windows were broken, and cobwebs were plentiful.

Yaccov lost his entire family at Auschwitz and he has lived alone his whole life. As he grew older, it became increasingly difficult for him to take care of himself, let alone his home! Not knowing that he could seek assistance, he continued living in these dire conditions.

The renovation team began the grueling task of scrubbing, cleaning, and gutting Yaccov’s entire apartment. The repairs took a full month to complete and included a new kitchen, new bathroom with an accessible shower, installing a water heater, laying a new floor, replacing broken windows and doors, and repairing the walls. Not only has Yaacov received new living conditions, but his hope and dignity have been restored. He can now enjoy the last of his remaining years living in a pleasant and comfortable environment.

“It is heart-breaking to see the extent of repairs needed in some of the homes” remarks Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah. “The renovation team is amazing, though! They work with such kindness, in coordination with the social welfare officials, to get the work done as quickly as possible.”

Another home repair took place for a family of six living in severe poverty in a small two-room Jerusalem apartment. The parents had enclosed a modest balcony to create a bedroom for their four children. This room was stifling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, mold had crept into the walls, and illness soon reared its head. Because of their living conditions, inviting friends over to visit was not possible. Upon hearing of this family’s situation, the renovation team were dispatched and began stripping the moldy wall, sanitizing the apartment, and constructing a new dividing wall in the living room to create a proper bedroom for the children. The family now enjoys a clean living-space, and the children have a safe place to sleep and can finally feel happy to invite friends over to play after school. The family is elated with their renovated home.

Soon, the renovation team headed to another apartment, where an elderly couple live in Jerusalem. The wife is wheelchair bound and the husband suffers from a heart condition. They were physically unable to fix their home, which was poorly lit and had become dilapidated and hazardous, with broken and missing floor tiles increasing the risk of falling and getting injured. The renovation team began by painting the walls, which immediately added an element of light and brightness to the apartment. Then, they replaced light fixtures and retiled the apartment. Next, grab bars and railing were affixed to the walls. This couple can now feel safe and secure living in their home. They were overjoyed with the repair work, and promptly wrote a letter of thanks, stating: “You made our home into a palace.”

Thank you for your support. Your donations to our “Giving a Future and a Hope” fund allows the ICEJ to extend compassion and aid to many Israeli families who are living below the poverty line.

 

ICEJ sponsors winter camps for Jewish youths

Young people play a large part determining not only the present, but also the future of a country. Therefore, it is very important for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem to support Jewish youth even outside of Israel, especially as a means to encourage them to build their own future back in the Promised Land.

However, especially in the case of the former Soviet republics, this often involves re-establishing the connection between the Jewish community and their religious and cultural roots, which were severed for several generations during the communist era.

“During the seven decades of the Soviet regime, the Jewish community of the former Soviet Union (FSU) experienced severe identity loss”, explains Roman Polonski, director of the FSU department for the Jewish Agency for Israel. “Thirty years after the regime’s collapse, only an estimated 20 percent of the 800,000 Jews across the broad expanse of what is now the FSU are meaningfully engaged in Jewish life. Russian-speaking Jews, therefore, have unique Jewish educational needs, both in the FSU and in other regions.”

In response, the ICEJ has been supporting Aliyah programs for Jewish youths for many years now, including our sponsoring of Youth Aliyah camps. In these camps organized by JAFI and supported by the Christiam Embassy, Jewish children starting from the age of seven learn about Israel and the opportunities that await them here. Through such programs as Naale and Sela, they also have the opportunity to continue their education and Jewish identity-building in Israel. These Youth Aliyah programs have been a huge success over the years in bringing Jewish children to Israel ahead of their parents and then helping their parents acclimate once they have arrived. Thus, it has been a great blessing for the ICEJ to support these unique and highly successful pre-Aliyah camp gatherings.

In fact, the ICEJ has just helped to sponsor two such winter camps in January 2022. One of them took place in St. Petersburg with thirty-four young people from ages ten to fifteen. They were joined by six trained counselors and enjoyed their camp experience in the historic city of Pushkin, a suburb of Russia’s northern capital of St. Petersburg. Activities which helped the participants embrace their Jewish identity and Israeli culture included creative workshops, games, and quests all held in a surprisingly warm atmosphere.

One winter camp attendee, 11-year-old Daniel Vulfovich from St. Petersburg, was thrilled to take part.

“I really enjoyed the winter festival this year”, said Daniel. “It’s great to be able to spend your holidays like this. The camp counselors made our holiday fun and productive. We studied the history, traditions and culture of the Jewish people, held various master classes and games. There was also a snowball fight. I would like to thank the sponsors who help in holding such festivals.”

Another ICEJ assisted winter camp took place near Minsk, in Belarus, enrolling fifty-two children along with their camp counselors. This camp was allowed to happen despite the Covid restrictions still in place. However, due to social distancing, twice as many busses were needed and urgent financial support was necessary in order to abide by Covid regulations. Thanks to our Christian supporters around the world the ICEJ could cover this need, as well as enable some of the parents from needy families to travel to the bus departure point and give their children a proper send-off.

Life in Belarus is very difficult, and parents want their children to make the transition to Israel, where they believe they will have a better life. We have had the privilege to witness more and more young Belarusians discovering and embracing their heritage after decades of concealing it. These camps are usually staffed by young Israelis, and it is very inspiring for the campers to connect with them as they learn about life in the modern Israel. For most children, the camp is their first genuine encounter with what it means to be Jewish, providing the foundation of their Jewish identity and nurturing the desire to make Aliyah.

Please continue to support our Aliyah efforts in helping more young Jewish people to find their future in Israel and be a blessing for their country. Give towards the Aliyah efforts of the ICEJ.

ICEJ helping youth-at-risk to walk a new path

There is no doubt that living on the streets is a harsh existence which no one would willingly choose. Yet for some young girls, desperate to escape from difficulties or even abuse at home, running towards the streets of Jerusalem seems like their only hope. Others may find themselves shamed and rejected at school or by family for not being able to conform to strict religious or cultural norms and behavioral codes.

Often these girls are as young as 12 or 13 years old. Upon entering street-life, frequently these young girls become the prey of predators in drug and human trafficking. Unfortunately, if not helped in time, some may get caught up in a web of prostitution and drug use. Often, any hope of furthering their education is completely shattered.

Twenty-two-year-old Sara bravely shared with our team the story of how she ended up being homeless and on the streets. The eldest of eight siblings, Sara grew up in a religious community in Jerusalem.

When she was 14 years old, she was accepted to a very prestigious high school seminary. However, she struggled with the regulations, the teachers and even with friends. “Every time I broke the rules, I was sent home. Often without explanation. After a brief time, I was expelled and found myself at home, without school for more than a month,” recalled Sara.

Another seminary school accepted her, but she was expelled again. “I began to get used to the freedom at home and then I started working though I was still less than 15 years old. I began cleaning stairs in buildings in my neighborhood and naturally this caused my parents and family to feel ashamed” explained Sara.

As Sara started earning money, she bought herself a smart phone and was exposed to social media and dating sites, making friends with people outside of her own community. Gradually, her dress changed from modest Orthodox attire to wearing the latest styles. “Eventually it became very difficult for my parents… and for me. I got tired of seeing them hurting, scared and worried that I may be a bad influence on my younger siblings. At this stage, I made the decision that the best was for me to leave home,” said Sara.

The day came when she packed her suitcase and sought shelter by going from one friend’s home to another. “Each night I slept at the home of a different girlfriend, and after I exhausted my options, I moved on to the streets. I was 15 years old without a normal place to sleep on the bitterly freezing streets of Jerusalem. I began to learn about the way of the street. I needed to survive. I discovered a world that exists behind the shadows of the nice city. I smoked and drank” shared Sara.

The place where she lay her head to rest was a storeroom shared with Sudanese migrant workers. Managing to find work in a supermarket, Sara often worked 18-hour long days, as she tried to escape her thoughts, all the while longing for home, a nice hot meal and contact. With her supermarket wages, she was soon able to acquire an apartment to rent.

“For more than a year and a half, my life routinely involved parties and an extravagant night life. When I was 16 and a half, I met a man six years older and moved in with him. We did drugs and went to parties. He took advantage of me day and night. It was an obsessive relationship, and I had no contact with my family” recounted Sara.

“Eventually he was arrested and went to jail. This was traumatic for me…. Once again, I fell and for almost another year, I abused drugs and alcohol. I was a hurting young girl who moved from place to place and was destroying my life” recalled Sara.

This is where the International Christian Embassy comes in, as caring for children and youths at risk is a key aspect of the ICEJ’s Giving a Future and a Hope program.

“When we heard of an initiative that has been running since 2010 to help these youths-at-risk to meet their psychological and educational needs, the Christian Embassy embraced the project with arms wide open!” said Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah.

“The work of this project ensures that these young girls have a safe place to meet away from the prying eyes of the street. Here, they receive a hot meal, a warm shower, get clean clothes, obtain feminine products, and receive medical attention if they have been beaten-up on the streets” noted Nicole.

This safe place opens its doors three nights a week to approximately 250 girls. As time progresses, the girls start to build a trusting relationship with the staff there. Together with the support of social workers and therapists, the girls are slowly able to navigate their way to a brighter future. This future includes completing their high school education, or enrolling in professional certificate courses to obtain employment in sought-after professions like video editing, photography, book-keeping, and cosmetology. They step into a new street; one which leads to healing their brokenness and rebuilding their self-image.

One Thursday night, Sara’s life changed forever. As she and other youths-at-risk sat at a popular square drinking before heading to a party, two ladies approached them with cookies and hot tea, encouraging them to accompany them to a safe place where they could receive a hot meal. Although they initially dismissed the ladies, the thought of eating a hot meal was compelling. That evening Sara became one of the 250 girls to regularly walk through the doors of this safe place to a new life!

In time, as a trusting relationship grew with one of the workers, together they contacted Sara’s mother. “Gradually, I renewed my relationship with my family. I even met a little brother whose name I didn’t even know”, said Sara.

Sara was encouraged to go to a special school to help her make up for her lost years of study. With dedication and hard work, she completed her high school education. Sara then decided to stay on to complete a post-high school program and begin to take responsibility for her life. “My life took on meaning and I learned to be aware of my strengths. For the first time in many years, I felt safe and in good hands with people who only want to help me to rebuild my life” recalled Sara.

Through therapy, Sara acquired the tools to help her mend her life and a year later began to return to her faith. “I recognize that God is my best friend. I learned who I am and what is right for me,” said Sara.

Today Sara is married to a wonderful man who understands, accepts, and supports her as she continues her journey of rebuilding herself. Her relationship with her family is restored and she currently works supporting girls who are walking a similar path to the one she walked.

Through your generous giving, the Christian Embassy can Give a Future and a Hope to many similar vulnerable youths-at-risk seeking to walk on a different life path. 

 

 

ICEJ Helping Immigrant Doctors Get Licensed in Israel

For several years now, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has sponsored a program launched by The Jewish Agency For Israel to provide new immigrant doctors with the licenses and tools they need to continue their medical careers here in Israel. At the same time, this program infuses Israel with the invaluable resource of added practitioners to help staff hospitals and clinics around the nation – an even greater need in the time of coronavirus.

This Doctor's Licensing Program helps level the playing field for immigrant Jewish doctors by providing them with the unique credentials and skills (especially language abilities) essential to their successful absorption in Israel.

Before the corona crisis hit, Israeli hospitals were already experiencing severe overcrowding and a growing shortage of physicians, as many doctors had reached retirement age, and there was an insufficient number of medical students to take their place.

Meanwhile, many talented men and women from the former Soviet republics have been making Aliyah eager to continue their medical career in the Jewish state. Among these olim (newcomers) are doctors from a wide range of fields whose valuable medical backgrounds are urgently needed in Israel. But they must first pass a medical relicensing exam before they can practice here.

Thus, the ICEJ has been supporting this Doctor's Licensing Program, which helps bolster both the Israeli medical field and these new immigrants. The program provides ongoing support in helping them adapt to life in Israel, obtain a license, and even find employment in Israeli hospitals.

Danyl Godim is a medical doctor from Ukraine who made Aliyah in 2019 with his wife Ana, a nurse, and their two children. The arrival of the Godim family marked a milestone for the ICEJ, as Dr. Godim marked the 150,000th Jewish immigrant assisted by the ICEJ over the past four decades. To celebrate the occasion, the Christian Embassy invited the Godim family to receive special recognition during our Israeli Guest Night at the Feast of Tabernacles 2019.

“We are grateful for all the assistance we have received, and could not have made Aliyah without it”, Danyl recently said as he warmly remembered their evening as our special Feast guests.

Danyl and his wife decided to make Aliyah because they felt Israel is their true home and a place where they can give their children a better future.

"Life in Ukraine was good, but we wanted to advance in the professional field and completely immerse ourselves in it”, said Danyl as Anna Godim concurred.

“Looking back today, there is no doubt that we made a good decision to take this opportunity for ourselves and for our children and we thank all the people who were involved in helping make this happen", he added.

Danyl came on the “Profession for a New Life” program for medical doctors, supported by ICEJ. This program lasts up to two years and at the end of the program, graduates receive a medical license in Israel, and begin the process of specialization and integration in the various positions in the Israeli health system.

Through in-depth Hebrew language studies focused on learning field-related terminology, and a unique course to prepare newcomers for the Israeli medical relicensing exam, this project provides an effective solution for newcomers who want to move their lives and careers to the Jewish homeland.

Despite his youthful looks, Dr Godim had already served for 20 years as an anesthesiologist at a large hospital in Ukraine and as a lecturer at a nursing school. Since arriving nearly three years ago, he has been eagerly awaiting the day he can fully practice here in Israel.

"I am currently doing an internship as an anesthesiologist at Laniado Hospital after years of working in this field in Ukraine", he said. "The moment I finish my internship will be an amazing moment marking the fulfillment of my dream – I will be a legitimate doctor in Israel."

Anna, an experienced nurse back in Ukraine, added that, "When we arrived in the country in 2019, I focused on caring for our children during our absorption in the country while Daniel spent most of his time in the program to get his medical license and continue the practical training he is carrying out these days.”

“It has now been two years since we arrived and we are now acclimatized to Israel. So, I am now planning the entry and integration process as a nurse here in the Israeli health system. It is a big dream that I am waiting to fulfill”, she said with excitement.

The ICEJ has just renewed our commitment to continue funding this special program for more physicians and nurses moving to Israel this year. It has a high rate of success among those taking the medical relicensing exam, plus it is a great blessing for these new Jewish immigrants and indeed for the whole nation as they help close the growing deficit of doctors in Israel.

Please give generously to this and other Aliyah and Integration efforts carried out by the ICEJ. Together, we are gathering the Jewish people and helping to build up Zion according to all that God has promised.
 

 

 

Handiworks that warm the heart

When Jewish families are celebrating Shabbat around the table on Friday evenings, observant fathers bless their children and then recite from Proverbs a blessing over their wife. “An excellent wife, who can find? … She looks for wool and flax, and works with her hands in delight… A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” (Proverbs 31:10, 13, 31)

For many years, the ICEJ has received boxes filled with beautiful handmade quilts from the USA, designated for Holocaust Survivors. These blankets are made with love and dedication, involving many hours of work, to bless the people of Israel. ICEJ Homecare worker Corrie van Maanen recently delivered some of these quilts during her weekly visits to elderly and disabled Russian Jewish immigrants to Israel.

Mirjam was born in Belarus and is now in her eighties. She suffered severely during the Second World War. She remembers being the princess of her father, and how he could lift her up high above his head, filling the room with giggles and joy. This young father left his family during the war and never returned to his wife and daughter. Mirjam’s mom was suffering from heart disease but did everything she could to care for her little girl. At the beginning of the war Mirjam and her mother fled by train to Siberia, enduring a time as refugees that was filled with fear and hunger. When the war was finally over, they moved back to Belarus but had no money and no father in the home. Who would provide? The mother could not afford to rent anything more than a cold, damp basement room. There were no tiles on the floor and the rats were running around, especially in the night. The trauma of her childhood lingers with Mirjam until today. When Corrie visited and gave her the quilt, Mirjam responded with tears: “This love is touching my heart!”

Luba, now 96, made aliyah from Moscow in the 1990s, living independently ever since in a small apartment in Jerusalem. She often feels lonely and has many concerns for her only son, who is very ill. She tries to help him as much as she can, in spite of her age. With the new quilted blanket in hand, her fingers gently touching it, she was impressed with the work and beauty of it. “When you give me a gift, it is always beautiful. It leaves me happy and feeling precious.” For that moment, her sense of being love took over her sorrow.

Or as elderly Jewish immigrant Sara states it: “It shows love and attention, and that we are not forgotten.”

The Finnish people have a very special relationship and long history of love for the people of Israel. It is most certainly love in action when we think of the Aliyah from the Former Soviet Union and the vital role which Finnish Christians have played for so many decades in this work of compassion and prophetic fulfilment. A great faithfulness has been displayed in these believers who, with quietness and dedication, have done the work their hands have found to do.

Love is displayed as well in the boxes full of handknitted woolen socks which ICEJ regularly receives from Finland. The socks are shared not only with the Homecare patients whom Corrie visits weekly, but also with soldiers in the army. Young men and women who must give their best years to service and protecting the nation of Israel. Young men and women who are often in difficult places, where courage must rule over fear to complete the missions they are called to do. When a group of soldiers receives the warm socks, many shouts of joy and words of ‘thanks’ fill the air.

In the Netherlands, there is a city near the North Sea which is well-known for their longstanding love for Israel. A group of women there knit the most beautiful baby clothes throughout the year. When a box arrives, Homecare shares the packages with an organisation in Tel Aviv and one in Beersheba which protect unborn babies. When women – sometimes very young or in difficult family situations – become pregnant, an abortion is often the advice they receive. But the people of these organisations want to help these women in crisis pregnancies by protecting the unborn life and providing material and emotional help. Both Jewish and Arab women find help from the dedicated workers. The women are especially assisted in working through the process from rejection to acceptance of themselves and their young child.

Receiving a package of hand-made items that someone has crafted with love is a source of comfort and healing. “These small acts of love often have a far greater effect than we often realise,” said Oxana, who leads the work in Beersheba.

Today, the Christian Embassy wants to shine the light on all those supporters around the world who give of themselves in very personal ways to bless and show love to Israel. Besides these displays of handiwork, we need many others to continue giving towards the work of ICEJ Homecare – your extended hands and feet here in the Land of Israel. Please consider doing your part to comfort these precious sons and daughters of Israel.

 

Bringing Comfort to Israel

As we take our first steps into this new year of 2022, we want to remember the Lord’s goodness toward us over the past year and, with expectancy, trust in His faithfulness for this year ahead, as we continue to walk in the mandate given to the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in 1980!

The ICEJ’s founding mandate is based on Isaiah 40:1-2 “Comfort ye, comfort ye My People” “Speak comfort to Jerusalem and cry out to her, that her warfare has ended....”

For over forty years the ICEJ has embarked upon this journey of giving comfort to Israel. This journey has involved deeds of compassion, and every town, village and city has been impacted in some way by our benevolence ministry in helping the poor, encouraging children, caring for the elderly, and assisting Jews to return to their biblical Homeland.

Our ministry currently is focused on four main spheres of practical aid and comfort. Together with your support during 2021, we were able to impact the most needy and vulnerable in Israeli society.

Here is a summary of the ICEJ’s many AID projects which show how you helped make a difference in Israel in our four main areas of work:

Israel in Crisis

During March, the ICEJ carried out the largest-ever Passover holiday distribution to the poor and disadvantaged Jewish families who were hard hit by the Corona crisis, while delivering Easter gift baskets to Arab Christians throughout the land.

In May, Israel found herself under severe rocket attacks from Gaza and the ICEJ was able to spring into action by immediately ordering 15 new portable bomb shelters, delivering protective vests and fire-fighting suits to first responders in the front-line border towns.

With the “cease-fire” remaining fragile on the southern border with Gaza, and an additional threat on the northern border with Lebanon ever lurking, the ICEJ continued to purchase bomb shelters throughout the year, for placement in vulnerable communities near the borders. An additional 36 portable shelters were purchased while other underground shelters saw renovations made to them.

Giving a Future and a Hope

Our “Giving a Future and a Hope” program strengthens Israeli families, provides education and economic empowerment, cares for children and youths-at-risk, and extends to Arab/Jewish coexistence efforts throughout Israel. Throughout last year, we were overjoyed to see many lives impacted through this program. You can read the encouraging personal stories of lives transformed in the following articles:

Giving hope to the struggling side of the Start Up nation

Igniting creativity in Israel’s elderly  

ICEJ Helping to mend Israeli families

ICEJ restoring hope to vulnerable single mothers

ICEJ extending love to orphaned children

New life is a heartbeat away  

Aliyah and Integration

We are bringing the Jews home and helping them to settle in their Land.

Despite corona travel bans, the ICEJ started out the year by bringing hundreds of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, including one young Ethiopian boy who received life-saving heart surgery once in Israel. Between December 2020 and March 2021, the ICEJ sponsored flights for over 500 of the 2,000 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants who arrived in the “Operation Rock of Israel” airlift.

In total, the ICEJ provided Aliyah and Integration assistance to nearly 4,000 new Jewish immigrants to Israel from over 20 countries worldwide last year, including sponsored flights for more than 1,500 new arrivals.

Meanwhile, our Homecare program marked 25 years of faithfully continuing to serve the elderly Russian immigrants with regular visits, giving gift packages and providing nursing care for those with physical disabilities.

Holocaust survivors

As Israel marked ‘Yom HaShoah,’ its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day in April, several leading Israeli media reported on the ICEJ’s special Home for Holocaust Survivors in Haifa. The news outlets highlighted the daily work of our team of Christian nurses and volunteers at the Haifa Home, while one of the main Israeli TV channels aired a two-hour telethon to raise funds for the Home.

Then in July, the ICEJ was thrilled to join with charitable partners to open Israel’s first National Call Center to serve the urgent needs of Holocaust survivors nationwide. The center is located near our Home for Holocaust Survivors in Haifa.

Thank you for your prayers and for sowing your seed in good soil! These are only a few highlights from our many AID projects which have flourished because of your support.

In 2022, the Christian Embassy will remain being your hands in extending Christian love and comfort to the people of Israel. May you be blessed as you continue to partner with us in reaching the most vulnerable in Israeli society.

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